Costa Rican Culture

Costa Rican Culture

Laid-back vibes exuded by the Caribbean, a centuries-old heritage brought from the Spanish land, and boundless indigenous expressions are what define Costa Rican culture. Fresh onlookers on this colorful land will immediately be struck by this melting pot of different ethnicities. While almost 95% of the population is of European ancestry, Spanish being the dominant one, the remaining indigenous community provides a unique glimpse into the country’s invaluable heritage. The term Tico eliminates all the differences and encompasses the entire Costa Rican population. This is a common symbol of unity and national pride, which are extremely important elements of the culture of Costa Rica.

The is a common conception that Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world, and it is for a reason. Ticos don’t like to dwell on negative sentiments. Their famous motto Pura Vida is the manifestation of this positive lifestyle, meaning “pure life”. This is also a natural result of the welfare level of society, as healthcare and education are very well supported for all people. Some iconic cultural symbols are soccer, the most popular sport in Costa Rica, Catholicism, and independence. Having earned its independence without vulgarity twice, Costa Rica values it more than anything else.

Costa Rican people are warm and friendly, a character trait most likely resulting from the tropical climate and cheerful heritage. You will see how cultural life evolves in harmony with the tranquil nature surrounding and how Costa Ricans prioritize well-being and happiness as you travel across the country.

Costa Rican culture

Eating & Drinking

“Delightfully austere and casually rich in content, Costa Rican food has a fresh feeling to it that will rejuvenate your senses unlike anything else.”

In the extremely plentiful, spicy, and complex food scene of Central America, Costa Rica somehow eludes from the picture with its mild cuisine. Dishes are mostly dependent on fresh vegetables and fruits, with rice and black beans as staple ingredients. In urban centers like San Jose, you will find playful international touches to the local cuisine in experimental restaurants. Peruvian, Italian, and Chinese influences are common and popular. Local ingredients like maize and corn are from the pre-colonization times, common in indigenous recipes. And Tamales, as in many other Latin American countries, are iconic festive food. While on the Caribbean Coast, Afro-Caribbean culinary traditions dominate the scene, with fish and pork accompanying the iconic rice and beans, especially during the holidays.

A typical dinner in Costa Rica consists of a combination of multiple local dishes served on one plate. Casado is a famous example, reflecting the generous nature of Costa Rican culture to the bone. Rice, beans, and meat on the one side, and salad, fried platano bananas, and tortilla on the other: the balance of tastes is the best part of the national dish of Costa Rica. As for breakfast, there is no dish more traditional than Gallo Pinto, blending Costa Rican and Nicaraguan tastes in a harmonious marriage. Arroz con Leche is the national dessert, made in the country for centuries. The lemon zest and cinnamon sticks are part of local variations.

Apart from the most common dishes, there are iconic elements that you will only find in Costa Rica. Ticos love their sauces. Salsa Lizano, a quintessential Costa Rican condiment, is almost a culinary symbol of Costa Rican culture. And there is the refreshing agua dulce, raw cane sugar juice coming from the higher elevations to the sun-kissed coast.

Unique Crafts & Shopping

Costa Rica is not exactly the shopper’s paradise when it comes to mass-market products. But, its crafts scene is so bewitching that you will hardly find space in your luggage for the things you purchase in this dreamy country. Pura Vida, the Costa Rican way of life, radiates from myriad handicraft traditions. Traditional oxcarts are worth buying in Costa Rica for all the skillful design that goes into them. They are symbols in the culture of Costa Rica as a centuries-old means of transporting coffee from the mountains. Another famous craft in Costa Rica is Boruca Masks. They are as authentic as it gets, invented by indigenous tribes to stave off colonizers, featuring exotic animals and plants native to the country.

When in San Jose, the best thing to buy is a wooden souvenir. Tropical wood carving is one of the most famous crafts in Costa Rica, and you will find a plethora of items that are both pretty and functional. Another iconic choice would be woven fashion items. Indigenous textiles are true spectacles with their bright colors and traditional patterns. In the local shops of Sarapiqui, handmade soaps and bamboo clothing is popular traditional souvenirs. Above all, Costa Rica is famous for its edible products, with coffee and sauces being at the forefront. There is no better gift to buy than a pack of the highest quality Costa Rican coffee. If your itinerary includes a trip to the plantations, these are the best places to buy coffee beans.

  • Takeaway: Although haggling is not part of the culture in Costa Rica, you are more than welcome to try your luck with the vendors. If they don’t seem willing, it is wise not to push, as kindness and acceptance are essential to the fabric of daily life.

Religion & Etiquette

Roman Catholicism is the state religion in Costa Rica and the dominant religion in the society of the country. While almost 50% of the Catholic population identifies as devoted practitioners, the rest inherit the religion from family members and are not active in worship. Nevertheless, Catholicism is one of the major defining elements of Costa Rican culture. It has a place in most people’s lives through cultural elements like holidays and symbolism. And when it comes to the manifestation of religion in everyday life, Costa Ricans are quite demonstrative. Crosses, images of religious figures, and icons are everywhere from homes to the streets. Religious holidays like Holy Week, Christmas, and Saint’s Day dominate the yearly calendar.

In Costa Rican culture, kindness is very important and so is non-confrontation. Even the strongest feelings of discontent are expressed in a very gracious and orderly fashion. To blend in, it is best to avoid exaggerated expressions of discomfort in public. Gender equality is now prevalent in the formerly patriarchal society of Costa Rica, but issues regarding same-sex partnerships and public displays of affection are still common. Family is an important binding element for a stable and healthy society. Generations usually live in the same house and big families symbolize unity over individualism, while elders are treated with the utmost respect. Punctuality is not a big issue for Costa Ricans, as “la hora tica” or the Tico time defines the concept.

Festivals & Events

“Unbridled joy and fresh vibrancy define the festivals in Costa Rica, where the electrifying traditions of this exuberant land are celebrated through countless occasions.”

The fiestas of Costa Rica will blow your mind with their intriguing themes, bringing forth the most charismatic twists of its unique culture. The dynamism of its diverse land reflects through traditional and national holidays in Costa Rica. Among a sea of authentic celebrations, the country is also famous for its modern arts agenda, with numerous music and dance festivals every year. There are also vigorous national holidays. In the most famous festivals in Costa Rica, the spirit of Central America combined with the country’s unique cultural touch comes to life.

The unbelievable Limon Carnival is the ultimate expression of Costa Rica’s history and culture, known as the most happening festival of the year. Caribbean rhythms reach their climax towards midnight every day during one week of frenzy. Food, music, dance, art, and years of tradition are showcased in spectacular parades. Hit downtown San Jose in December for welcoming the festive season with the grand Festival de la Luz. The festival of lights may have the largest fanbase in all of Costa Rica, and it is for a good reason. The light shows are simply magical, majestic floats carry mythical figures adorned with glitter, and masquerade parties never seem to end. Santa Cruz Festivities are pure Costa Rican culture, celebrating the wilder side of the country’s heritage through bullfights and gunpowder games.

Independence Day is a good time to travel in Costa Rica, marking perhaps the most important of all Costa Rican holidays. In mid-September, cities are awash in music and cheer, as locals parade through the streets with lanterns and flags.

Costa Rican culture

Costa Rica Food Guide

Check out our Costa Rica Food Guide for the tasty local dishes and drinks you must try.

Costa Rican culture

Costa Rica Travel Advice

Everything you need to know about traveling to Costa Rica is in our Costa Rica Travel Advice guide.

Solo Travels

Are you traveling alone? Check out our Solo Travels page for detail.

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